Church leaders and activists have welcomed a move by the government in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh to raise financial assistance for hajj and Jerusalem pilgrims. They believe it is the right move as it will help many more to fulfill their dream of visiting holy places. The decision was taken on Oct. 30 by the state cabinet at its meeting presided over by Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy. “The state government’s move is highly appreciable and it should be welcomed by the religious because there are many who can’t afford to foot the bill to visit holy places, which they call heaven on earth,” Father Anthoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of the Federation of Telugu Churches, told ucanews. “We should thank the present chief minister, as well as his father, who was also the chief minister and actually started to give subsidies in 2008 so that many more people could fulfill their dreams.” Father Thumma, who is also the regional director of the Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of Hyderabad Archdiocese, said arrangements for the pilgrimages would likely be organized by Christian travel agencies mostly recommended by members of the legislative assembly or members of parliament.
According to the new scheme, Muslims going to Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage and Christians visiting holy places in Jerusalem will benefit the most. Those with an annual income of below 300,000 rupees (US$4,200) will receive a subsidy of 60,000 rupees, an increase of 20,000 under the existing scheme, while pilgrims with an income of more than 300,000 rupees will also see their assistance increase by 50 percent, from 20,000 rupees to 30,000. The state government has allocated a total budget of 142.2 million rupees (US$2 million) for each part of the scheme. A compulsory journey
The application process for making the hajj 2020 began on Oct. 10 and shuts on Nov. 10. The hajj is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims — it is believed that hajj, one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, brings the followers closer to Allah and cleanses their sins. The pilgrimage is obligatory for Muslims who are physically and financially capable of making the journey. Hajj 2020 will begin on the evening of July 28 and end on the evening of Aug. 2, although officials say those dates are subject to change. Christians put an emphasis on a Jerusalem pilgrimage because it is associated with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian quarter of Jerusalem shelters about 40 religious monuments such as churches, pilgrims’ hostels and monasteries. The Via Dolorosa or the Way of Sorrows is a prominent site in the quarter — it is the path that Jesus took to Golgotha Hill, the place of his crucifixion. Faithful go there to follow in his footsteps along a route that begins at the Lion’s Gate, passing through the 14 stations, and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The church houses the most significant relics, such as the anointing stone and the grave of Jesus. Jerusalem, the Israeli capital, has attracted millions of pilgrims over thousands of years owing to its eternal history tied to the religious roots of Jews, Christians and Muslims. It holds the privilege of being the world’s holiest city and has a wondrous story to tell every visitor to the Holy Land. The very walls and stones of the city and the whispering winds of the lanes relate its eventful history. It holds a central spot on ancient maps of the world and has been praised and adored with 70 names. A Jerusalem pilgrimage promises an unforgettable spiritual experience with overpowering emotions, excitement and adventure. Alongside the marvelous historic and archaeological places, the city also houses tourist attractions that appeals to people of varying interests, such as culture, arts, music, theatre, architecture and cuisine. Mohammad Abdul Majeed, spokesman for the Indian Islamic organization Jamat-E-Islami Hind, told ucanews that “Andhra Pradesh is the only state in the country to award the maximum amount of subsidy so that the even the poorest person can benefit from the scheme. “I have personally seen many people who wanted to visit holy places but had to pull out due to the high price. This new scheme will allow them to visit because the subsidy is more than quarter of the total expenses for hajj pilgrims.” Prisca Bara, a Catholic from Delhi who visited Jerusalem last month, added: “It is a lifelong dream because what we have read in the Bible, what we hear about it and visualize. After visiting the Holy Land, we can relate to it even better. “We paid 100,000 rupees per person for the trip. I’m happy that Andhra Pradesh is giving the subsidy — if the other states had done the same, many more people would have visited the Holy Land.”
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